Open Appeal over the lawless actions of the Kharkiv authorities and Police

It is vital that we demonstrate to the crushing of peaceful protest in Gorky Park has no justification in a democratic country and that such actions must not go unpunished. Please add your voice to our appeal to the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissar

To the Council of Europe, Human Rights Commissioner,
Thomas Hammerberg

Dear Mr Hammerberg,
We would like to bring to your attention highly disturbing actions by the Kharkiv authorities and police in connection with the controversial felling of century-old trees in Kharkiv’s central Gorky Park. The local authorities not only acted in breach of the law and ignored public opinion, but also used unlawful measures, including physical force, against peaceful protesters. Particularly worrying was the way in which the police abetted the use of force by unidentified strong men gangs as well as repressive measures against the victims of violence.
No public discussion was held and there is still no openness regarding the actual building plans. The local authorities claim that it is all for Euro-2012, yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection revoked agreement of a plan for the construction of a “hotel complex and apartments, and for a vehicle road”. Instead of openness and dialogue, the local authorities have resorted to violence together with misinformation, defamatory invectives against the park’s defenders and, it would seem, attempts to bribe them.
The decision to fell 503 trees in Gorky Park in order to build a road and hotel facilities on park territory was adopted by the Kharkiv City Executive Committee on 19 May 2010. Men were sent to carry out the work the very next day. During those first days, no safety precautions were taken and the area was not cordoned off. It is a miracle that the trees did not fall on passers-by.
These are only some of the many flagrant breaches of legislation. The Governor of the Kharkiv Region M. Dobkin, and Acting Mayor of Kharkiv, H. Kernes, both claimed publicly on a number of occasions that the work was in accordance with the General Plan for the city, approved back in 2004, that all relevant permits had been obtained, and that there had been public hearings as required by law and the Aarhus Convention. Yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection confirmed on 1 June that the permits were not in place, and that the Ministry had no information of any public hearings having been held (http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1275438199
Even more disturbing is the reaction of the Kharkiv authorities to lawful protest by city residents against the illegal destruction of their park. The entirely peaceful protest began on 20 May. When it transpired that the workmen could produce only a copy of the decision taken the day before the activists called the police. On that occasion the police still responded correctly to the lack of permits and suspended the felling work.
Most regrettably this was to be the last time that the police carried out their duty to protect citizens from lawlessness and violence. During the confrontation, police officers either stood aside, failing to protect people from attack, or themselves used force against peaceful activists. They also only detained defenders of the park, and not their assailants.
At 4 a.m. on 25 May around 100 police officers escorted workmen into the park and encircled the area. Activists who tried to protect the trees with their bodies were dragged away and beaten by police officers. This can all be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BADz2LuSJkk&feature=related
On the morning of 28 May, around 50 men of athletic build with badges saying “municipal security” entered the Park where police were already present. They formed chains and began brutally moving away the tree defenders, beating up some of them. They could provide no identification, nor has anybody heard of a “municipal security” department. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C32xe43uVi4
Despite the fact that a group of thugs without proper identification had fallen upon peaceful protesters, the police at first looked on, and when they did react, detained the protesters. 12 were charged with disobeying police orders which is patently absurd. The activists asked the police to protect them against the assailants..
Following publication of the Ministry for Environmental Protection’s clear indication that the felling was unlawful, and that the planned works were NOT in the General Plan for the city, the Kharkiv authorities might have been expected to back down. Instead in the early hours of 2 June, some 50 men in black turned up at the site, together with workmen and police. While the police looked on and did nothing, the men in black turned on those attempting to protect the trees. Several protesters were injured. Despite the fact that it was the activists who were set upon, that they committed no offences and certainly did not show resistance to the police, the latter yet again detained only them. The culmination of the lawlessness can be seen here http://www.telekritika.ua/daidzhest/2010-06-03/53400, One of the workmen saws through a tree which falls straight onto one where one of the protesters is holding vigil.
The unlawful destruction has ended, with far more trees felled then stated originally. Civic organizations have lodged complaints over police behaviour and plan to appeal court rulings.
The Kharkiv authorities through their actions demonstrated total contempt for the interests and even the very safety of members of the public as well as for legislation.
The police carried out unlawful instructions, not only failing to protect citizens but actually violating their constitutional rights.
There has also been no adequate response from the top management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers or the President, although the level of overt lawlessness and the attack of the authorities and police on members of the public raises doubts regarding any commitment to democracy or human rights.
The scale of the violations, as well as the lack of proper response from those in power, compels us to seek your help in drawing the attention of the authorities to the need in the first instance:
1. to carry out an investigation into all stages of the confrontation and the actions of the local authorities. The commission should include representatives of leading human rights and environmental organizations, with the organizations choosing representatives, not the authorities;
2. on the results of the investigation to hold to answer those guilty of unlawful action or failure to act, including those who issued unlawful instructions;
3. pending conclusion of the investigation to suspend any further work on the territory in dispute;
4. to not obstruct peaceful gatherings aimed at expressing the attitude of members of the public to the actions of the authorities.

It is vital that we demonstrate to the authorities and police that contempt for the law and human rights have no justification in a democratic country and that such actions will not go unpunished. Your support and attention to this situation can help achieve this.

Thank you.

This appeal can be endorsed by writing to nolawlessness@yahoo.com
The list of signatories is being updated for the moment only in the Ukrainian – English version here: http://www.khpg.org.ua/index.php?id=1275869282

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